Gene Sarazen, Inventor
By Andrew Wood
Before Gene Sarazen invented the sand wedge, most golfers played recovery shots from sand with a 9-iron. Because the blade was so sharp this required enormous skill, leaving little or no margin of error for any but the most talented player. Sarazen came up with his idea for a sand wedge while he was a passenger on an airplane one day. He noticed how the wing flaps affected the flight of the ’plane when they were extended. When the aircraft landed, he called the Wilson sporting goods company and asked them to send him six niblicks (9-irons). Then he went to the local hardware store and bought all the solder they had in stock. For the next few days Sarazen spent all his waking hours experimenting with the 9-irons by adding mass in different shapes and amounts to the sole of the club. He realized immediately he was on to something and he kept on soldering and filing and trying again until he got it right. The result was the world’s first true sand wedge and, so far as bunker play was concerned, a greatly improved Gene Sarazen.
Champions are always being asked to test new club designs and they are happy to do so. It isn’t just for the sake of change but to check whether a different look, style or feel might give them the edge they are constantly seeking. Some, like Arnold Palmer and Tom Kite, have workshops in their homes where they can bend a hosel a few degrees, grind down the sole of a wedge, or lengthen the shaft of a putter. Some of the greatest advances in the scientific arena have appeared to many to be pure luck. Penicillin, for example, was first discovered as a mold on top of another experiment. Luck may indeed be a factor, but continuous experimentation and long hours of hard work invariably predate the fortunate happenstance. The same is true in the world of golf. Part of being a champion is the lifelong quest for minor improvements, in any aspect of the game, that will one day contribute to victory.